I like getting questions in class

“Every time we ask a question, we’re generating a possible version of a life.” – David Epston

Questions in tai chi group practice give me something tangible to relate to. They challenge me to delve into knowledge immersed just below the surface, waiting to emerge and bring light to a topic of interest. They bring teacher and student closer in shared experience and understanding. They bridge one story with another, thus creating a single story out of many.

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Another article on research about research on tai chi

“Falling is the primary cause of traumatic death for older adults, and more than 17% of older adults report between one and five falls in the past three months. The problem seems to be getting worse.”

More research of research on tai chi.

There seems to be a steady stream of it for sometime. This article from Time.com refers to a report published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society on a review of 10 randomized studies on tai chi effects on balance. It’s another report on another study about more studies. I wonder if it actually influences more people to try tai chi.

The referred-to study and the Time article, build on the growing inventory of the benefits of tai chi in media and the research community interested in exercise modalities, particularly as they relate to the aging population of Baby Boomers. The body of text essentially is arguing for doing tai chi, without actually saying it outright. It suggests to readers to at least look into the subject.

The article concludes with: “More research is needed to determine just how beneficial tai chi really is in preventing or delaying the occurrence of serious falls.” I’m not sure if the article writer is making this conclusion or just repeating what the researchers state.

Either way, research papers and articles talking about them commonly conclude with such statements. So much so that they are drawing attention to the repetitive nature of cliche and un-examined habitual speech.

More research is not necessary, really. That might just be another research group throwing in its two cents on the efficacy of just another exercise method. More people just need to do tai chi and find out for themselves.

http://time.com/4874707/tai-chi-health-benefits-falls/

Refining Tai Chi: Bring in Life

When you practice, you’re not just moving the body, you’re bringing life into it. By circling the eyes, for example, you’re freeing them up from stagnation and decay (atrophy), and allowing them to serve as “gates” (men) through which energy may enter the body. Think of tai chi this way.

Starting tai chi with trust

When I started tai chi I didn’t know what to expect, but I was rather desperate. I had been ill for a long time and I was willing to try anything. It just so happened that a colleague at work invited me to join him in his tai chi class. So I did, and that was the beginning of my journey into discovering what tai chi is and what it would mean to me.

Essentially, tai chi is a journey of discovery for whoever endeavors to learn what tai chi can do for them. It’s a journey of accomplishment. The “excitement of discovery and satisfaction of achievement” is my fancy, wordy way of describing it.

One thing that I’ve always been pretty good at is doing things without questioning why I’m doing them, or questioning what teachers, preachers, parents, doctors, dentists, and friends tell me to do. I trust things that way. It hasn’t always served me well, but it has worked in the case of tai chi. I think most children are naturally that way–to trust without knowing where it’s going.

And that’s how I felt about tai chi when I began 17 years ago. I’m still practicing, and it is a major part of my activities. In the beginning, I took to it slowly—one 90-minute class a week. I had difficulty lasting the whole class, and several times I walked out before class ended. But at some point I was feeling better. I got really excited about how it, so I started training more intensively.

After a while, as most long-term practitioners are aware, I met a “wall of resistance.” By this, I mean that at some point in a practice you become challenged to go beyond yourself, and to seriously shift to a new level of skill. You’re not sure how to, though. You’ve never been there before.

In order to rise above the block, you have to make clear choices about wanting to continue. One thing I’ve learned after practicing and teaching for this long is that every beginner that comes along has to do the same thing. However long you practice, for a month or many years, you have to make a conscious choice every day practically to practice.

The truth is you’re always at a starting point at which you’re at a new learning edge. It’s a chance to learn something you didn’t know before. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable. But if there’s anything that we human beings are good at, it’s overcoming the obstacle of not knowing something and learning anyway. You just have to trust.

Where is the proof in tai chi?

They’ve got theories to explain and practices to prove, but you may never prove anything. However, the effort you make to do so is proof enough that it was important enough to at least try.

Memory vs observation and your tai chi practice

We rely on memory to get by, but as we age our memory gets a little slack. This is normal, they say. But the suggestions people make to help you manage forgetfulness as we grow older seem ineffective. My thinking is you have to figure something else out. Luckily, there is something.

We can train ourselves to be more observant. My reasoning for this refers back to a behavioral commonality among us. We do things without thinking. We don’t think ahead, nor do we look ahead. For example, I might have forgotten where I placed my reading glasses and often I can’t find them when I look for them. Since I don’t remember where I put them, I have to search around for where I think they might be. Then after an hour or so and a few attacks of frustration, I finally find them where I had already looked—right where I had left them. Often, they are right in the first place I looked, but I somehow didn’t see them. Why is that? Impatience? Sluggish mental prowess?

Probably. But my powers of observation were lacking, too. If I had looked more closely, I would have found them much more quickly. If I had taken the time and broken the tendency to rush the outcome could very well have been different.

We do this sort of thing all day long. I need to blow my nose because I just ate some spicy Cajun food. I get up to grab a tissue but I can’t find the box of tissues, because I moved them from my desk to the coffee table in the living room or to the bedroom nightstand. I walked right by them on the way to my desk. If I had been more observant, I could have saved myself a trip.

That’s what I mean by being more observant. We live our lives thinking our memory will serve us always. We expect to find what we believe we’ll find. That just doesn’t happen as much as we think. We go for a walk and spot something that looks like a broken piece of glass, but it turns out to be a fallen leaf lying in the dirt. We assume it’s a piece of glass before we actually know what it really is. We walk out the house expecting to find our car, our lawn chair, our lawn. Or a view of the ocean, or the mountains and forests, of the skyline of our city. But we seldom really look at them. We just expect them to be there and once we verify they are, we’re done. Move on.

Tai chi and qigong help me to cultivate my powers of observation. I still catch myself reverting back to old habits, but gradually, I’m changing. Some might say they already have a handle on it. That’s fine. They’ll find out if they can hold on to it as they age.

I return to this issue every time I stand in wuji and begin a practice session of tai chi and qigong. Because they are expressly an exercise in being observant. They help to cultivate awareness, concentration, and sensitivity to changes in the self and the environment. It’s good for memory and it’s good for aging.

Five years of blogging about taijiquan

This week marks the fifth year of venturing into blogging about taijiquan and its internal mysteries. My first post on December 5, 2011 is entitled “What is Tai Chi?”. I’m sure I will be trying to answer that question for the rest of my life. I may have wanted to quit at times, but I haven’t yet. Those peculiar dark slumps into the soul pit of delusion don’t last, and I emerge with renewed hope and insight. Now the sixth year of blogging begins.

I’ve struggled, as other bloggers must have, with whether I should blog. I’ve never been quite sure why I do. Some urge to write just happens. Why ask, then? One thing does come through the mind clutter—writing, just as taiji is, is an effort to extend awareness beyond self. Writing about it is a way of claiming the knowledge that I have amassed. Not that I am very knowledgeable, just happy to have overcome enough barriers to claim a semblance of victory over attachment to self. To savor my growth in some little way.

I’ve learned from practicing taiji that one must seek to eschew cliché and conventional thought if one wishes to exceed one’s limitations. That goes for practice, as well as for writing about practice.

I still struggle to craft words, sentences and paragraphs that help clarify my view and help others discover and organize their own views of the mystery of movement arts. In my case, it’s been taijiquan and qigong; but it could also be other forms, such as yoga, dance, and athletics, like running, skiing, swimming, bicycling, and so on.

When you’re at your best, you’re in nearly perfect yin and yang balance, the essential dynamic of taijiquan. Without perceiving these two points of taiji, you’re wouldn’t quite be doing taiji—the supreme ultimate expression of anything. In my mind, the greatest yogi is doing taiji—expressing taiji, manifesting it, giving it form and substance. As is the most masterful practitioner of internal martial arts that originated in China so long ago.

Thank you reader for your gift of attention. I hope to have been useful in your journey. To risk a little cliché— despite the distances, knowing you makes the world a little less lonely.

As I go forward, probably with the usual oscillation of forward-backwards-forwards again, I jot down an informal invocation for inspiration.

In your practice,
you have to be ready
to see something you’ve never seen before,
to do something you’ve never done before,
and to feel something you’ve never felt before.
And not get too surprised or overwhelmed
because of whatever might throw you off course,
and lose the concentration that got you this far.
You have to be ready for what you want.
That’s what you do this for.

Tai chi and choosing a path of change

“You want to change the world? Change yourself.” My Chinese martial arts teacher, George Xu, told me that once. Of course, I already knew that, but it’s always good to be reminded. You can’t get enough reminding, especially in the midst of living under the barrage that is this world in this time. Not that I think I can change the world, but I am interested in changing myself.

I’ve read also in a wellness course I’m taking that “all change is self-change.” For me, tai chi and qigong are tools for change. I began my practice for that reason, although it wasn’t foremost in my mind. I was taking a chance that it would help to solve a health problem. It was a desperate act of hope to alter an illness. It’s that way for many practitioners—deciding on tai chi to correct an affliction or to prevent problems in the future.

It’s not always clear how to change or what to change at first, however. We can know such new and unfamiliar modalities, that really are only hearsay at first, only by doing them. We might fear that they won’t work and we will have lost time and money, but we have to trust something, so we engage them, uncertain of the outcomes.

Isn’t that true all the time anyway? You can either trust others or yourself. Doctors, healers, priests, ministers, shamans come and go, and in the end you still have yourself. All these have value if placed correctly, but tai chi and qigong give you the wheel and allow you to do something about your health for yourself. We have in the end, and in the beginning as well, only our own best judgment to go on and act on the hope for fruitful outcomes and solved problems.

Reminder: Know where your central equilibrium is. Move around it, up and down its length. Forward and back. Straight, strong, alive. Flexible, always regenerating.